AgBioView - http://www.agbioworld.org
* Golden Rice and Shame
* Organisations involved in output traits
* Global community to sequence banana genome
* China develops moth-free rice
* Recent articles from the UK regarding the UN HDR Report
* The UN's human development report
Let them eat more
* The Blessings of Biotechnology
* Foes of genetically improved foods go grant-shopping
Date: Jul 12 2001 15:58:53 EDT
From: Andrew Apel
Subject: Golden Rice and Shame
While I wholeheartedly believe in much of what Prof. Kohl has to say to
his critics, I must disagree with his contention that “the biotech
industry has shamelessly tried to turn golden rice into the poster child
for the industry.” This perception of the industry is the result of a
concerted effort by Vandana Shiva, later taken up by Greenpeace, to create
The first step in the effort was to vastly overestimate how much
golden rice children would need to consume, using a set of false and
misleading assumptions. The second step was to take favorable remarks made
by the industry, scientists and observers and characterize them as being
as overblown as Shiva’s and Greenpeace’ erroneous calculations. The
attempt was successful, and ‘industry claims that golden rice is a silver
bullet’ has now become widely accepted, even though it is little more than
an urban legend.
I also have to disagree that remarks favorable to golden rice made by
industry constitute a “shameless” and “unprincipled effort to co-opt this
publicly financed effort [golden rice].” This accusation stems from the
misperception that industry has somehow made ‘silver bullet’ claims for a
product that still doesn’t even exist. However, it also implies that there
is a moral standard which applies to being in favor of using biotechnology
to alleviate, i.e., blindness. If there is such a moral standard, I would
suggest that those who oppose such a use are far more likely to be
“shameless” and “unprincipled” than those who favor it. Helping fellow
humans in need is a moral imperative that surpasses all others; and those
who suggest otherwise are either disingenuous or corrupt.
The most remarkable thing about the role of golden rice in the public
‘debate’ is that in a very clear way, it forces everyone to examine how
ethical it is to oppose a technology with proven benefits, which might
even help alleviate malnutrition, simply because of hypothetical or
imaginary fears, or a distaste for intellectual property rights, or an
opposition to freedom in trade, or the mythical wishes of Gaia.
Those who favor developing golden rice in the hope that it will reduce
blindness and malnutrition, in the industry and elsewhere, are clearly on
the moral high ground. Those with a blanket opposition to biotechnology,
for whatever reason, are now revealed to be standing somewhere else.
This might make it appear to some that the industry is somehow taking
advantage of golden rice, when in actuality, golden rice, merely by its
nature, has illuminated the ‘debate’ to the detriment of many.
In response to critics of his “GM Foods - Another View” Professor Kohl
wrote, in part:
“I could not agree more with Margulis’s assessment that the biotech
industry has shamelessly tried to turn golden rice into the poster child
for the industry, especially since, contrary to the claim of Tokar, no
industry money was spent to support its development. But I am puzzled by
the apparent conviction that the golden rice project is somehow
compromised by the industry offensive. Surely, we should denounce
industry’s shameless attempt, but why should their unprincipled effort to
co-opt this publicly financed effort reflect badly on the product?”
Date: Jul 13 2001 01:50:44 EDT
From: Rick Roush
Subject: organisations involved in output traits
We often here a lot about the companies involved in "input" traits (eg.,
herbicide resistance, Monsanto and Aventis), but is it a qualitatively
different group of organisations involved in "output" traits (eg., better
nutrition, vaccines, etc)? Do they tend to be more often in the public
sector and/or more diverse? Can anyone offer a list of
organisations/companies working on output traits?
Global community to sequence banana genome
Earth Times News Service
By ANJULI BOSE
Scientists from 11 countries will announce a collaboration to sequence the
banana genome. In a conference to be held from July 17-19 at the US
National Science Foundation in Arlington, Virginia, the group will discuss
ways of using new genetic data to grow bananas that are able to resist
pests and diseases.
"Cultivated bananas lack the genetic diversity needed to fight off
disease," said Emile Frison, director of the International Network for the
Improvement of Banana and Plantain. Because ancient farmers chose to plant
seedless bananas, those bananas have been at "an evolutionary standstill
for thousands of years."
Since bananas are a staple food for almost half a billion people around
the world, it is the hope of the international assembly that more
resilient banana crops will help reduce hunger and poverty. In developing
nations, bananas and plantains are the fourth most important food crop.
For the last 30 years, Black Sigatoka, a fungus, has reduced the
production of bananas by 30 to 50 percent. In addition, parasites and
viruses have threatened the yield of the crop.
"If we can devise resistant banana varieties, we could possibly do away
with fungicides and pesticides altogether," said Frison. Not using
pesticides, which harm plantation workers' health and the environment,
would cut down the price of imported bananas by 27 percent.
China develops moth-free rice
Times of India
July 13, 2001
BEIJING: Chinese scientists claimed to have successfully developed two
species of genetically modified (GM) rice, a report said today.
The new species, developed by scientists at the Hangzhou-based Zhejiang
University, can kill moths that eat the leaves and stalks of the plant,
Xinhua news agency reported.
Rice moths, a major agricultural pest in China, destroys upto 24 million
acres of rice crops each year, the report said.
Chinese farmers had been relying on traditional chemical pesticides for
moth control at a higher cost, also leading to environmental pollution and
harmful pesticide residues.
Meanwhile, scientists at the genome information centre of the Chinese
Academy of Sciences and the Human Genome Research Centre in Shanghai are
working on research involving simultaneous sequencing of the genomes of
Indica type rice and nonglutinous rice.
The project, which is part of an international rice genome sequencing
project initiated by 10 countries including China, America, Germany and
Japan in 1998, is expected to finish the genome sequencing of the two
sub-species rice strains by February 2002.
Recent articles from the UK regarding the UN HDR Report:
"Technology and poverty" (editorial)
"Technology the key to banishing poverty"
The New Scientist
"Hi-tech poverty battle"
"Companies must learn to live in the spotlight"
"The continent is poor and getting poorer - but there are signs for hope"
"UN agency backs GM food crops"
"Two views of what is best for India's poor farmers
"Developing countries will suffer without continued globalisation"
"Third World boom raises hopes of end to poverty"
The UN's human development report
Let them eat more
The anti-globalisation brigade likes to tout two big objections to new
technology's role in promoting growth. The first is that the richer you
are, the more access you have to technological innovation; information
technology, in other words, reinforces the "digital divide" between rich
and poor. The second is that unwelcome western innovations-such as
genetically modified food-are shoved on people in poor countries, who gain
no benefit from them. The United Nations' annual Human Development Report
this year tackles these objections head-on. By looking at the relationship
between technology and growth, its authors come to a convincing
conclusion: poor people need more innovation and access to technology, not
The evidence that technology helps development is strong. The decline in
mortality rates that took more that 150 years in the now-developed world
took only 40 years in the developing world, in large part thanks to
antibiotics and vaccines. Technological innovation in plant-breeding,
fertilizers and pesticides have doubled the world's cereal output in a
mere 40 years, compared with the 1,000 years that it took English wheat
yields to quadruple. More recently, the development of oral rehydration
packets, a simple solution of sugar and salt that increases the absorption
of liquids, has cut the cost of treating diarrhoea and saved millions of
The problem remains that the great majority of technological advances are
produced by, and for, rich countries. In 1998, nine-tenths of new patents
went to OECD countries, home to only one-fifth of the world's population.
Of the $70 billion spent on health research in 1998, a mere $100 million
went to malaria research.
In the unequal distribution of technology, there is market failure, both
national and global. The report's recommendations fall into two
categories: what poor countries themselves can do, and what should be dome
multilaterally. At the country level, the report stresses proper
incentives to invest in research and development, with a greater emphasis
also on education. Rich countries subsidise R & D, because the benefits of
new technologies to society as a whole are greater than those realised by
the countries that produce it. By contrast, poor countries spend very
little on subsidies for R&D -only 0.6% in South Asia and Latin America,
for instance, compared with 2.4% of GDP in the rich world.
Good research, though, demands a critical mass of well-educated workers.
Here, the report treads delicately. Traditionally, the approach to human
development had been guided by a "trickle-up" philosophy. The social
returns from investment in primary education, for example, are higher than
for secondary or tertiary education, with the benefit that they tackle
poverty directly. Ditto, returns from investment in primary health care
and preventive medicine over investment in modern hospitals and curative
In their push for more R&D in poor countries, the authors want more
spending on higher education, but without a retreat from primary
education. Their recommendation to retain public funding for primary
education, while encouraging the private supply of higher education, is
thus probably on target.
At a global level, the report calls for more public funding and for a
"reassessment of the rules of the game" to ensure that the deck of the
technological innovation as not stacked against poor countries. Just as
innovators do not fully recoup the social value to a country of new
technologies, so countries do not recoup the social value to the rest of
the world of their innovations. Since the benefits of R&D spread across
borders, countries tend to under-invest in R&D from a global perspective.
For this reason, the report advocated a global initiative to establish
research partnerships between rich and poor countries.
With luck, this will encourage research on problems that matter to the
developing world. In the meantime, the report should make well-off
protesters who vandalise plantations of genetically modified maize think
twice about whether they are actually helping the poor.
The Blessings of Biotechnology
by Hans de Vreij
10 July 2001
The latest annual report presented by United Nations Development programme
once again highlights the painful contrast between the world's richest and
poorest nations. But this year, the UNDP also goes out on a limb, asking
countries in the West to rethink their rejection of genetically modified
crops and other aspect of what is termed the biotechnology revolution.
The central theme in the human development report this year is the use of
modern technology in reducing worldwide poverty. It's a controversial
matter that involves genetically modified crops and other technologically
The UNDP regrets that the debate about genetic engineering in Western
nations has been dominated by fears about potential health and
environmental hazards. It concludes that Europe and the United States tend
to ignore the concerns of the developing world, where genetically modified
crops could produce higher yields for populations desperate for food.
The same goes for new vaccines that help fight malaria, pneumonia,
meningitis and other common diseases in developing countries. The UNDP
points out that pharmaceutical companies tend to concentrate research on
the needs of the rich and developed world.
You Can´t Eat PCs
The report notes the increasing importance of the Internet when it comes
to development-related issues. It can help, for instance, to give farmers
access to whole new markets. The Netherlands has taken a leading role,
financing a range of Internet projects in many parts of the world. Some
radical organisations question the enthusiasm for computers, saying you
can't eat a PC. But the UN squarely dismisses this view.
A valuable contribution to national political discussions will be the
report's 28 supplements on statistics. These sum up the key indicators for
human welfare for each of the 162 countries under survey. They include
income, education, gender equality and trade union activity.
Development Index 2001
At the top of the list - and therefore the most developed country under
the UN's criteria - we find Norway just ahead of Australia and Canada.
Norwegians can expect to live to the age of seventy-eight. Their Gross
Domestic Product per capita stands at more than 28 thousand US dollars per
year. In Sierra Leone, by contrast, people only earn 448 US dollars and
life expectancy is just thirty-eight years. That's almost half that of
most rich countries like The Netherlands where people can expect to live
until the age of 78. With an average income of around 24,000 dollars, The
Netherlands takes up eighth position for a third consecutive year.
With an average life expectancy of 65 years and a per capital income of
3,000 US dollars, Indonesia is number 102 in the list of 162 countries. It
trails Vietnam but remains ahead of other emerging markets in Asia such as
India (115) and Laos (131).
The last 25 places in the list are all occupied by countries in
sub-Saharan Africa. That's a result not just of endemic poverty, but also
of the AIDS epidemic, which is wiping out whole generations of young
people with dire economic consequences.
Foes of genetically improved foods go grant-shopping
Anti-biotech activists get most of their funding from private foundations
-- names like Pew, Packard, MacArthur, and Ford come to mind. Some of the
larger philanthropies even share board members with the nonprofits that
they fund. But it's unusual to see the funding process unfolding in the
light of day, and today we have just such a treat. A web site called
www.ePublicRelations.org is reporting that two tax-exempt groups in
California are currently "forum shopping" for grant money that would
specifically be targeted toward attacking the biotech foods industry. The
Institute for Food and Development Policy (informally known as "Food
First") wants $450,000 to team up with another group, called the Pesticide
Action Network North America (PANNA). If their proposal is funded, these
two groups would begin a national onslaught to try and shape public
opinion against genetically improved foods. Their grant proposal describes
how Food First and PANNA would "forcefully argue that the best choices are
'none of the above,' neither genetic engineering nor pesticides, but
rather biological pest control, integrated pest management, organic
farming, and argoecology.